Somebody moved the goal post!

There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to experience today. FOMO or Fear of missing out, combined with hyper-connectivity, is eating us from inside out, writes Lakshmi Palecanda

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Have you felt inadequate lately? Chances are good that you have. What with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp and Google focusing merciless spotlights on each and every one of us, it would indeed be a surprise if you haven’t.
“That’s me on the slope of an erupting volcano.”
“I’m Assistant Director now … Expecting to be promoted soon.”
“I’m doing a course in pottery and teaching cooking to underprivileged children.”
“I’m a consultant for all the hotshot IT companies.”

Even if you have a very healthy self-esteem, there are times when you feel a pang. Seeing such messages day in and day out, it is no surprise that we tend to get depressed occasionally. We studied well, we worked hard, we took on many challenges … yet, we don’t seem to have accomplished much. Growing up in the lower middle class during the ‘Hindu economic times’, all I looked forward to was a secure, comfortable life. At that time, all my peers wanted was a job with a reasonable income, leading hopefully to owning a two-wheeler and a home, with a little left over for children’s education and savings for old age. This was, to me, the epitome of a successful life.

When the middle class pushed its way up, I was happy. But now, I’m bewildered. I find myself caught up in a frenzied age, where everyone is expected to have a couple of expensive cars and luxury apartments, enjoy holidays in exotic places, and do fantastic things, if they are to be considered even average! And I’m not the only one feeling this way. This is the problem facing everyone today.

There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to experience today. FOMO or Fear of missing out, combined with hyper-connectivity, is eating us from inside out. Inspiration gurus and umpteen TED talks are everywhere, telling us we can do anything and everything. And there are people around us who are accomplishing the impossible once, twice, many times over. Rags-to-riches stories, nothing-to-everything tales, six-to seven-figure salaries, projects with global reach … these are the realities of today.
If we don’t do something with our time, make something of ourselves, or accomplish something big, we feel like failures. This has always been true of the human psyche. But today, our definition of the ‘something big’ is changing every minute, from WhatsApp message to Instagram post.

A decade ago, I was gung-ho about doing something concrete with my life, too. Hitting the 40-year milestone, I began to work like I’d never worked before, to achieve some goals and make sure that there wouldn’t be too many ‘if onlys’ in the summary of my life. And I did accomplish a lot of things, some even big. However, ten years later, it doesn’t seem to be enough. Somebody moved the goal-post!

If there is a word to describe today’s world, it could very well be ‘not enough’. ‘I make loads of money, but not enough’. ‘I have a Mercedes, but not a Maserati’. ‘I have travelled through Finland, but I haven’t hiked in Alaska’.

True, when you are ambitious, you grow, and if you are content, you tend to relax. But what is wrong with contentment and relaxation? If you have a small but thriving business, everybody wants to know when you’re going to open more outlets. If you say you don’t want to branch out, people shoot you suspicious looks out of the corners of their eyes. “Something must be wrong,” they think, “otherwise you’d be out there, trawling for more lucrative markets.” If you sing well, “you should really be on reality shows.”

If you’re into cooking, “you are on Master Chef Something-or-the-other, aren’t you?” If you write well, “I’ll soon see you on the bestseller lists, won’t I?” (Wink-wink) And, if you breathe well, “you should really be in a meditation class.”

Whatever happened to singing for the sake of making music, cooking to eat well, writing to express your thoughts, breathing … well, to live? Whatever happened to going to the beach to feel the moist breeze, going to the terrace to look at the racing monsoon clouds, stopping to see where a line of ants are headed?

Whatever happened to “I’ve had enough”, “I’ve seen enough”, and “I am enough”? Is there no way to feel these sentiments without feeling like we’re losers and our lives are over? While we ponder these questions, we must also remember one important thing: our children are entering the rat race at much younger ages. It behoves us to find an answer soon, if only to prevent our children from becoming the failures in their own eyes.

 

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